Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

Claire and Ava in Gruyeres, Switzerland

October, 2011

October, 2011
Chess in Lausanne, Switzerland

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Life since Amsterdam

Life since Amsterdam has been without complaint, I must say. Claire is closing in on end of school year and First Holy Communion classes. She seems to be enjoying both.

Ava is on break this week for mid-term. I like the British school year; kids coast along, do the show and tells, work on their maths, learn their 200 words and read their weekly books, perform a couple concerts per year, swim on Mondays, wear their red uniforms, park their scooters in the overflowing scooter parking and when they’re worn out, suddenly, voila! The mid-term break.

After a few days of recovery, they’re back at it…and don’t worry, they get plenty of summer vacation – 8 weeks. Frankly I think it’s perfect.

Whereas at Claire’s school all the type A parents (that would be everyone at ASL) ponder how to make sure our children don’t fall behind during the long summer break…
Which of course is sacrosanct…3 months of long, sunny, relaxing days spent in leisure. Think pool, beach, books, games, puzzles… Norman Rockwell. Throw in some whining, fighting and boredom and that’s probably a more accurate picture.

What’s new with us aside from June rapidly approaching? I had my Cinco de Mayo event w/ the ladies…I was recruited by the host because my email has the word “Texan” in it. This engendered me with Tex Mex food expertise.

For the love of food, I rose to the occasion and made corn salsa and Mexican wedding cakes (which my children and I believe are to DIE for warm out of the oven, happily rolled in powdered sugar).

We had a rocking Cinco de Mayo with plenty of margaritas and some kind of tomato juice shooters. Bring on the homemade salsa!!!

Also that day I had the honor of participating in Ava’s school’s spring fundraiser. My contribution was to show up and contrive incorrect answers for the quiz bowl. No door prizes for our table.

What did rock was an event later that week…”Stomp.” Which I really hadn’t much interest in until recently, when two for one tickets were available. Yes, it is so worth going. Two hours of solid, unique, creative entertainment. Fun, funny, unexpected. That, preceded by excellent cheap Chinese food (when you’re the only Caucasians in the restaurant it must be good, or the shop owners have a really large family. Maybe both?) and the company of a good friend, made for a great evening out.
We ended the first week of May with our guests, Joe’s sister and husband, at Rules, London’s oldest restaurant. A lovely place with a rich sense of history and some quite proper British décor, it’s known for its “game-y” menu. I no doubt will long be remembered for eating pigeon. (Squab on some menus.) Frankly if you’re dabbling in chicken the old pigeon isn’t far off…or maybe I’ve seen the inside of one too many chicken houses?!?

Over the weekend we hit the Real Food Festival (year 2 for the kids and me). I love that stuff. I suspect everyone else was along for the ride, but they seemed willing company. We left with a few goodies and had pork belly and asparagus for dinner; can’t beat that. Claire had her first non-family sleepover and seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

Sunday our guests took off and Ava and I prepped for “Star of the Week” (this involved gathering up photos and creating captions so Ava could be showcased as class star M-F). She shot off to school on Monday with the goods and a ready smile for class photo day.

I spent a couple hours on Monday w/ the Italian ASL ladies (mix of women who are either from Italy or interested in Italy – who isn’t?!?) at a FABULOUS pizzeria in Notting Hill. Will be dragging my family there sometime in the near future. We were well spoiled with all kinds of seafood, cheese, sliced meat appetizers. Then they brought on the big pizzas. I’m stuffed just thinking about it.

The day after that I spent a couple hours wandering around the St. Paul’s area, as I joined the last London walks tour of the school year. This one was Shakespeare/Dickens walk. Where they wrote, places cited in their works, what was happening in various parts of London when they were writing, etc. Great walk except we were all blue at the end, even the guide. Only in May in London would I need to go home and take a hot bath to warm up.

That day was Ava’s trip to the Tate Modern to look at paintings like Pollock’s, who she’s been studying. Sounds like it was a great outing – kids make better sense of modern art than adults, I think. This was one of those field trips I would have loved to go on, but alas Abercorn didn’t invite me (control the parent involvement…gotta love that).

Another recent highlight on my end: tooling around Islington w/ a friend. We had an amazing brunch. Amazing. The quiche I had was beyond belief. Great bacon, cheese and butter. Did I mention great bacon, cheese and butter…

As we’re winding things down, the St. Johns Woods Women’s Club is calling it a halt for the year, so I attended their finale luncheon recently. Freemason Arms in Hampstead. Highly recommend their duck. And brownie. Always lovely to spend time with these ladies – nice mix with diverse interests. Good thing I like them as I am moving into a position on their 2010-11 board shortly…

Joe and I enjoyed the theatre performance of “Chicago” last week, too – I liked it much better than the movie. The depth of talent here never ceases to amaze.

And to end that week, which was clearly action-packed, I had the opportunity to fit in one last “local travel” activity – a tour of Chiswick House in, you guessed it, Chiswick.

Chiswick House is a magnificent neo-Palladian villa set in beautiful historic gardens in west London.
Built by the third Earl of Burlington in 1729 to showcase his art collection and to enthral his guests, the house continues to display many spectacular works of art and provides a stunning venue for entertaining.
The gardens at Chiswick are the birthplace of the English Landscape Movement and have inspired countless gardens including New York's Central Park.
Completed by 1729, the villa, which echoes classical temple design, was never conceived as a private residence. It is instead, a bold architectural experiment by Burlington, a grand pavilion where he could display his art and book collection and entertain small groups of friends.
During his travels Burlington met the architect William Kent and invited him to collaborate on the design of the villa. No expense or creativity was spared on the interior and Kent designed the luxurious and colourful velvet rooms with red, green and blue velvet walls, that interconnect with a magnificent domed central saloon.

The day after Chiswick, a Saturday, I spent cooking and getting ready for a visit from my German friends! They were in town on a whirlwind London tour – people I hadn’t seen since our wedding. Great fun! They and their two boys came late in the afternoon; we had a lovely time catching up (in spite of language barriers). I’d picked up some Fullers brews for Udo to try (he’s a very tall, mustached German who enjoys Kolsh beer very much). I asked if he’d tried any English beers since arrival; he responded he’d tried Guiness (wrong country) and Foster’s (wrong again).
So he made his way through 3 or 4 big bottles of Fullers, various types. Without complaint!

I had to laugh as I sent them home w/ some fun little British items, one being tea (of course). When asked if they drink/like tea, Udo said they drink it when they're sick...which is generally my approach, too (other than the occasional special tea outing which involves all kinds of yummy goodies!).

This all brings us to last week…which wasn’t so frantic with last minute London outings. I did manage to power through Gladwells What the Dog Saw for a non-fiction book group I was recruited to attend by my friend Sczerina recruited. I like Gladwell, liked the group and the discussion so am now a willing non-fiction reader. Next up: The Genome (or something to that effect).

Late in the week I hit a cooking class with a friend – this time French technique. Gotta love the French; they know food. All the recipes were fabulous and appear to be very user-friendly; the food didn’t feel as heavy as lead and the instructor was fabulous. She is also I swear is no more than 25, with staff of 19 or 20, if that – how did they all get to be so poised, professional and talented at such a young age?
I’m sure I was still trying to make it look like I ironed my blouse for work when I really was far too late (or lazy or both)…

After frantically unloading my groceries that afternoon, I jetted off to a little wine bar in a pedestrian area of the West End for appetizers and wine with a friend before our theatre event, “Sister Act.” (Another of those “why not go? It’s 2 for 1 and got surprisingly good reviews.) Great fun, feel good show with wonderful music.
And the wine bar? Fabulous little find and a great evening for it – breezy and warm, windows and doors of the place open to let the outside in.

On the 21st I hit another book group – this one the monthly fiction meeting, wherein we discussed The Other Hand. Ok book. Not great. But made for a good discussion. Unfortunately our host had to run shortly before we wound up, so we closed her house down and headed to…the bar. The bar? Yes, the bar. How decadent. How fun. How…British. Pimm’s on a sunny Friday afternoon in London.

Oh I’m sure we could have done something “more productive” with our time but who wants to miss pimm’s on a sunny fri afternoon in London w/ friends?

In the evening Joe and I wandered down to Marleybone and it was such a nice evening we vetoed plans to watch Russell Crowe exude Robinhood-ness for dinner at a fabulous Turkish restaurant. We sat outdoors and ate a long, slow, tasty dinner…love all the eggplant, hummus and tziki (sp?) sauces and bread. We shared a lamb dish and an asparagus dish. Ended our meal w/ a meandering to a nearby café and an apple tart and coffee.

Over this past weekend we again had some friends over for dinner, enjoyable by all, and soaked up the sun. The backyard garden is ideal – tranquil and lovely, great place for the kids to romp and NO MAINTENANCE on our part. I do love a yard but I admit I don’t like gardening and yard work. (Well, that’s not 100 percent true; I like to plant things, but then I just really want them to be self sufficient. Independent plants; do they make them? I guess maybe the plastics dept. at Michael’s. Cacti?)

Monday Ava and I had a lovely catch up day, picnic in the garden, ice cream at the new gelato place in SJW…

And yesterday I got to go to Wimbledon! Great trip…

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which is responsible for staging the world's leading tennis tournament, is a private Club founded in 1868, originally as 'The All England Croquet Club'. Its first ground was situated off Worple Road, Wimbledon.
In 1875 lawn tennis, a game introduced by major Walter Clopton Wingfield a year or so earlier and originally called Sphairistike, was added to the activities of the Club.
By 1882 activity at the Club was almost exclusively confined to lawn tennis and that year the word 'croquet' was dropped from the title. However, for sentimental reasons, it was restored in 1899 and the club has been known as 'The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club' ever since.
Wimbledon is acknowledged to be the premier tennis tournament in the world and the priority of The All England Lawn Tennis Club, which hosts The Championships, is to maintain its leadership into the twenty-first century.

One highlight of our 2 hour tour: the roof was raised while we sat in Centre Court…

And of course I must note that my cioux (sp?) for the month was arrival of my updated driver's license! So when I jet off to Salt Lake this summer I will actually be able to rent a car...I did have a moment or two of wonderment as to how I was going to handle arrival in SLC w/ two kids no car...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Amsterdam Rocks

I’m finally getting around to writing about our recent Amsterdam excursion, which happened over the first weekend in May.

With our Bank Holiday weekend, we laid out a plan to see the infamous tulips there…

Friday, April 30, we made our way to the train station via the Heathrow Express. Train to the airport is so much better than the cab, in my mind. After the airport process we had plenty of time for wings and potato skins at Garfinkel’s.

Upon arrival in Amsterdam we picked up the right bags, navigated the airport and popped over to the train and a packed platform. Once on board it was a short 10 minute ride to chaos – Central Station was packed with drunk 20 somethings.

Travelers like us were clearly in the minority as we fought our way out of the station. Not easy in a drunken crowd w/ kids and suitcases!

Once outside it was just as crowded and rowdy (but in a happy way) on the streets. Thankfully our friend at the fine Crowne Plaza downtown Amsterdam hadn’t lied; the hotel was just across the bridge.

Inside it was quiet, no beer smells and litter-free. (We later learned that in addition to Friday being Amsterdam’s biggest celebration of the year for the Queen’s birthday, the street cleaners had recently been on strike). So as Ava put it, the streets did look a bit India-ish. Minus the cows.


I took an early morning walk to check out Amsterdam (over the years this has become one of my most treasured aspects of travel and/or vacations – so nice to explore a place before or as it wakes up). This morning Amsterdam was decidedly quieter than when we arrived and naturally smelled of stale beer. I did walk judiciously to avoid the vomit.

It was great to wander the canals and narrow streets, marvel at the masses of bikes here, there and everywhere and enjoy the architecture. Narrow brick houses, many w/ flowerboxes.

We breakfasted at our hotel – a buffet that was fine but didn’t measure up to the CP Gurgaon (but then will there ever be one that does…).

Our first outing in Amsterdam was to the Keukenhof, which...
• Is one of the most popular attractions in the Netherlands and has clocked up more than 44 million visitors in the last 60 years
• Is the largest bulb flower park in the world
• covers an area of 32 hectares 4.5 million tulips in 100 varieties
• is the most photographed place in the world
• has15 kilometers of footpaths
• is the largest sculpture park in the Netherlands
• has bulbs supplied by 93 Royal Warrant Holders
• boasts 7 million flower bulbs planted by hand
• has more than 2,500 trees in 87 varieties
• has a Walk of Fame with tulips named after famous people


Where Keukenhof is situated now was a hunting area in the 15th century. Herbs for the kitchen of the castle of Jacoba van Beieren were also collected here; hence the name Keukenhof.

The current park was a section of the sizeable estate of Slot Teylingen, with beautiful untamed bushes and dunes. After the decease of Jacoba van Beieren, Keukenhof fell into the hands of rich merchant families. Baron and baroness Van Pallandt invited landscape architects J.D. and L.P. Zocher, designers of the Amsterdam Vondelpark, to make a design for the garden around the castle. This design, in the English landscape style, has always been the basis of Keukenhof.

On the initiative of the Lisse mayor and a number of leading flower bulb growers and exporters, an open air flower exhibition was organised at the Keukenhof in 1949. This expanded to an annually recurring event that has always drawn great numbers of visitors from all over the world.

En route to the Keukenhof we passed through Amsterdam and into the countryside, with its lovely green meadows and canals, then past acres of flowers in perfect rows. A menagerie of colors, my favorite were the red ones; they create a lovely carpet.

The park itself is beyond amazing -- incredibly displays and arrangements everywhere, with fountains, statues, bridges, waterways, paths, stones, trees…huge place with five or six greenhouses interspersed throughout. Cafes and shops, too. The greenhouse displays were very different from the outdoor flowers. In one greenhouse we could climb up to a landing to look out over the all the flowers within.

In our wanderings we ended up along some flower fields around the park – lovely view. And we were able to climb up a windmill, an incredibly scenic experience. So Dutch, right? The smells, too, were fabulous.

At one greenhouse we walked into entertainment. A band was playing with a choral group – lively tunes that captured the crowd’s attention. Their finale was a song for a bride ang groom. Pretty place, though very busy, for a wedding.

To end our morning we had a snack at a water fountain, with organ music playing off to one side and flowers surrounding us.

Upon return to Amsterdam our efforts to hit the Pancake House were thwarted so we settled on sandwiches at a nearby café, then hit the Tulip Museum, where we got a few bulbs. (Not tulip bulbs, mind you, because while they are sold around town, the good ones are only available in the fall.)

We’ll see if we can get these bulbs to do their thing; they’re supposed to be planted now for blooming in summer. We asked to be directed to 3 bulbs of the low maintenance, planted pot variety…

We then visited the Anne Frank House.

As most know, the House was used as a hiding place for a Jewish family trying to escape Nazi persecution. It’s a somber experience, naturally, but one well worth doing. We’d read several books about Anne and her family so I think the kids got something out of the visit.

Anne Frank was one of the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution during the second world war. After Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940, increasingly severe anti-Jewish measures began here as well. The Frank family tried to escape by going into hiding. On July 1942, Otto Frank, Edith Frank-Hollander and their daughters Margot and Anne hid in this building on the Prinsengracht. They where later joined by Mr. and Mrs Daan, their sun Peter and Mr. Dussel. The building consists of two parts : a front house and a back annex. Otto Frank's business was located in the front house. The uppermost floors of the back anexe became the hiding place. After more than two years the group was betrayed and deported. Anne and Margot died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, only a few weeks before this concentration camp was liberated. Otto Frank, the only member of the group to survive, returned after the war.
During the hiding period Anne Frank kept a diary. In it she described daily life in the back anexe, the isolation and the fear of discovery. Anne's diary survived the war: after the betrayal it was found by Miep Gies, one of the helpers. When it was confirmed that Anne would not be returning, Miep gave the manuscripts to Otto Frank. In 1947 the first Dutch edition appeared. Since then the diary has been published in more then 55 languages.

From Anne Frank we stopped for photos at her statue nearby, then decided to relax outside for a drink as it was sunny and warm. It’s a great city to people watch – we saw more multi-tasking on bikes than imaginable. One man smoking a cigarette while riding w/ his daughter on the front of the bike. Another woman pedaling up hill in front of a car with umbrella in one hand, phone in the other.

All kinds of things here are transported by bike – rivals India in the level of use and creativity of transport mechanisms. I loved the wheelbarrow shaped basket in front for child (and object/shopping) transport.

After a short respite at the hotel we set off to find Café de Waag in Neumarkt. We had to pass through the Red Light district en route. At that time of day it was pretty tame, a few scantily dressed “ladies” hovering in windows, which of course invited questioning.

The café’s food was very good, and it’s quite the interesting building:

Originally built in 1488, this this magnificent historic building is lit by 300 candles. It was first constructed as a gate for the city's fortified walls, then transformed into a 'weigh house' where goods brought back by ships from overseas were weighed. In later years it served as a guild house for local professions and has also been a museum, fire station and more. In its most recent incarnation, the Waag houses a well-received café-restaurant as well as space (the former anatomy theater) for various types of exhibits.

Over our heads was a lovely chandelier featuring a good number of the 300 candles lighting the place up. Lovely brick interior. For food, I had the open seafood ravioli, which was excellent, kids had croquettes (fancy name for fried food) and Joe had a steak kebab that looked wonderful. The kids got chocolate fondue for dessert, Joe and I shared trio of chocolate (the mousse was decadent).

Sunday dawned rainy and a bit cooler. I walked down toward the Van Gogh museum and determined it better for us to cab it so Claire and I had a quick breakfast and headed off to Coster Diamonds, which offered a free 30 minute tour. Couldn’t say no to that. We got to see some gems being polished, the tools of the trade, examples of different cuts and grades, etc. Then of course we were shown wares upstairs but no hard sell. Next we went next door to the Diamond Museum, which is really interesting, interactive, etc. (Info on how diamonds are mined, geography, modern uses of diamonds, etc.) Copies of crowns, swords and other high profile garments featuring diamonds were on display.

Info on diamonds and Amsterdam…

Amsterdam's illustrious city of diamonds dates back from the 16th century. Fleeing persecution, many Sephardic Jews left Portugal, Spain and the Southern Netherlands during this period. Many of them ended up in Amsterdam, where they came up against the strict trade protection imposed by the guilds. Trading and cutting diamonds, however, was a free profession, and many Jews found work in this trade.

Several centuries later, mass finds in the Dutch colony of South Africa caused Amsterdam to develop into the world’s diamond epicentre. The persecution of the Jews during the Second World War was a big blow for the industry, although Amsterdam still enjoys an excellent reputation in the diamond community.

About Coster:

The Amsterdam diamond cutter Moses Elias Coster moved into factory premises at Waterlooplein in 1840, and Coster Diamonds was born. During that time, diamonds were still cut by machines literally powered by horses. Thanks to Moses' pioneering spirit, Coster Diamonds was the first diamond cutting factory in the Netherlands to introduce steam as the source of power.

In addition to being ahead of his time, Coster was also an incredible perfectionist. Only the very best was good enough, and it soon rained orders from Dutch and foreign customers. One of these represented an invitation by Queen Victoria to re-cut the Koh-i-Noor. This immense challenge established Coster as a master diamond cutter.

In 1970 the old diamond factory had to make way for the construction of the underground. Coster Diamonds moved to its current location at the Paulus Potterstraat. In three grand mansions, beautifully situated between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, the heritage of Moses Coster is being done proud.

After perusing the museum we met Joe and Ava across the street at Van Gogh and did the audio tour. Great collection.

For lunch we stayed close to VG as it was rainy and we were scheduled to re-convene at the Diamond Mine for an afternoon tour. Lunch was at a cute little Mediterranean place that smelled great and was humming w/ locals. The French oinion soup was to die for or the combination of hunger and cold glamorized it…not sure which.

Our afternoon tour was to Voldendam and Marken:

We were driven through typical Dutch scenery and the picturesque town of Monnickendam to Volendam, a traditional Dutch fisherman's village situated on the shores of the former Zuiderzee. En route we stopped at a cheese farm to watch a Dutchman wearing brightly colored wooden shows take us through the steps of how Edam cheese is made.

In a nutshell: milk heated to a certain temperature, rennin added, churned, curds formed, liquid removed for re-use in animal feed, curds pressed and voila – cheese (after some time of course). Some cheese aged longer than others, some smoked, etc.
After the demo we were shepherded into the gift shop, where we tried 6 or 8 different types of cheese make from cow and sheep milk. Naturally no one left without a hunk of cheese or some other Dutch touristy item.

BTW our guide was the first person into the cheese place and apparently he hadn’t had lunch, as he made a beeline to the huge wheel of cheese on display and proceeded to consume several chunks…

Back on the bus, we ended up at Volendam for some time to wander around the picturesque former fishing village (fishing industry now defunct in the area since the sea was turned into a lake and the “interesting” fish no longer inhabit the lake). The weather sucked, particularly at the edge of the water – think high winds and cold rain – so we spent our 40 minute break racing from tourist shop to tourist shop and drinking hot chocolate. We then boarded our boat for a nice, though choppy, ride to Marken, an island linked to the mainland by a dike.

Upon arrival we spent a few minutes in this tiny town, which just boasts a handful of businesses, windy little streets, picturesque houses. Our bus warmly delivered us back to Amsterdam, through gorgeous, green countryside with fluffy white sheep and neatly formed ditches and dykes.

After re-grouping (aka warming up) we headed off to Café De Prins. It’s a very comfortable “brown café”, a canal house with relaxed relaxed ambience. Felt very Amsterdam with big candles, wooden tables, upbeat music, mixed crowd. We went for the fondue and pork chop, both good, kids scored on pasta.

For dessert we stopped at a bakery en route to the hotel – Claire and Ava polished off chocolate waffle and donut, Joe and I shared a big piece of mocha chocolate cake.


On our last day here it was again cold and rainy so we made off to Sarah’s Pancake House for the biggest crepes we’d ever seen. The menu options went on forever; Claire went for standard syrup, Ava nutella (hers WAS dessert), Joe and I split one w/ Calvados and apples, another with ham and cheese. All served by Sarah. No doubt these places are popular post night-out food stops.

From there we cabbed it to NEMO, a great science museum the kids thoroughly enjoyed. After two hours of huge bubble-making, getting stuck in a wind-down lift, all kinds of water experiments, genealogy displays, electricity exhibits and more, we gathered our things, make off to the train, plane and home!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hair! The Market and Ballet

April 19 - 30

I'm happy to report we had SMASHING weather for a couple of weeks -- sunny and warm, lending a cheery demeanor to most everyone, it seemed. But that came to a halt as the first weekend of May's hoping it warms up again! 50 and gray/rainy make for great sleeping/coffee drinking weather.

Post ash hold ups found us whipping through school stuff, after school activity stuff, homework stuff, the norm. Claire's international committee at school pulled me in for Tex Mex festivities, as apparently living in Texas for six years qualifies one to be an expert at whipping up Tex Mex favorites.

So I huddled with several other cook types to plan a Cinco de Mayo fest. Can't go wrong with margaritas and chips/salsa, can we?

I also enlisted the babysitter for an evening performance of "Hair," a musical I'd arranged to see w/ the ladies. Unfortunately my "date" for the evening was trapped in Cincinnati due to ash issues so Joe got to attend (not necessarily his first choice theatre entertainment). The synopsis:

'A story of love, friendship and very long hair...'

HAIR is about a group of young New Yorkers in the 60's struggling to balance their lives and loves, rejecting the lifestyles of their conservative parents and rebelling against the looming draft. As the plot develops, each tribe member tells their story although two become increasingly compelling: Berger the tribe’s ring leader and Claude its conscience.

Claude is enrapt by his new life, in awe of Berger and in love with university student Sheila. But he's faced with an unbearable decision - resist the draft as his friends have done, or compromise his pacifist principles and step up for his country...

Infectious, outlandish and exuberant, HAIR has gained iconic status since erupting onto the musical theatre scene in 1967 and is responsible for many era defining songs that have become part of the twentieth century pop landscape. And as critics and audiences have found, the messages of HAIR are as relevant today as they have ever been.

While it certainly held my attention, there just isn't enough hippie in me to say I enjoyed it that much. And I'm out of the loop on the music so there you go. I was thankful not to be in the front row as one of the hairy cast members took off his shoes and enlisted a member of the audience in a foot rub. You could say the Hair cast definitely interacts w/ the audience, at times creeping across chairs as they perform.

In other news...

Claire's student led conference took place in late April; she did a great job presenting her portfolio, which showcases her 2nd grade work up to this point. She's enjoyed the year and done well in class, we can proudly state!

On the 23rd I got to put on my foodie hat and spend a few hours touring Borough Market. About the place...

Borough Market is London’s most renowned food market; a source of exceptional British and international produce.

Since its renaissance as a retail market just over a decade ago, it has become a haven for anybody who cares about the quality and provenance of the food they eat - chefs, restaurateurs, passionate amateur cooks and people who just happen to love eating and drinking.

The market is populated by a community of remarkable individuals from all over the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

As far back as 1014, and probably earlier, London Bridge (near where the market is located) attracted traders selling grain, fish, vegetables and livestock. In the 13th century traders were relocated to what is now Borough High Street and a market has existed there since.

In 1755 the market was closed by Parliament, but a group of Southwark residents raised £6,000 to buy a patch of land known locally as The Triangle, once the churchyard of St Margaret’s, and reopened the market. The Triangle, where you’ll find Northfield Farm and Furness Fish and Game, is still at the heart of the market today.

The market continues to feed this core community and has grown to include about 130 individual stalls.

With a group of fellow foodies of all ages and from various parts of the world, I followed our guide, Celia, around the market -- first starting with "elevenses" at Roast, a well-known, well-loved restaurant in the middle of Borough Market. Elevenses is a small, late morning meal. Ours featured a few British specialties (rarebit, sausages, carrot cake). All delicious!

From Roast we wandered the market, stopping at various stalls -- mostly favorites of Celia for various reasons -- great produce or purveyors of exotic foods. She pointed out vegetables and fruits currently in season, gave tips for preparing them, etc. (Celia is a chef, cookbook author and has her own garden plot.) She has developed relationships with various vendors at the market, so we got to do some tasting at some of the stalls -- the scallops, harvested south of us, were incredibly tasty, as were the roasted lamb/beef and pork at another stall. We got to hold an ostrich egg and learn about ostrich meat (which led me to pick up ostrich burgers for the weekend -- tasty and quite like beef).

Other stops were to taste olive oils and balsamic vinegars, chorizo and Spanish cheese and olives, tomato relishes, flan...

We took a break mid-way through and tasted two wines, white and red, with nibbles in a lovely, rustic old cellar converted into a tasting room for a little wine shop.

When we parted company I picked up a few fresh items and retrieved the kids -- great day out!

The next day we took the kids to see "The Ballet Shoes," a children's ballet performance. It was very well done; the talent is amazing, particularly considering the ages of the performers. The kids seemd to enjoy it, and Claire read the book prior to attending so she had a very good understanding of the story.

To kick off the following week, I went along on a tour of Leighton House with our fearless leader, Alice Leader (no pun intended).

About Leighton House:

The house was the former home and studio of the leading Victorian artist, Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896). Built to designs by George Aitchison, it was extended and embellished over a period of 30 years to create a private palace of art.

The Arab Hall is the centerpiece of the house. Designed to display Leighton's priceless collection of over a thousand Islamic tiles, mostly brought back from Damascus in Syria, the interior evokes a compelling vision of the Orient.

The opulence continues through the other richly decorated interiors, with gilded ceilings and walls lined with peacock blue tiles by the ceramic artist William De Morgan. On the first floor is Leighton's grand painting studio with its great north window, dome and apse.

It's a lovely place, the Arab Hall particularly auspicious with brightly colored tiles and extraordinary detail.

For lunch we ate at the Orangerie at Kensington Palace, a lovely lunch in a lovely room with a lovely view! Then I stopped at Whole Foods, which is always a fun experience though spendy.

And to top off the week, my Italian friends and I hit a very odd movie -- "I am love." I'm not sure any of us really enjoyed the movie BUT we did enjoy our time together and it did hold our attention (well other than Bernadette's 10 minute snooze mid way through).

I also got in a lunch with the Abercorn ladies at a WONDERFUL Turkish restaurant in Marleybone. Superb food, supposedly very authentic (can't say I would know) and very reasonable. Nice combination, I'd say...

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi

Jama Masjid, Old Delhi
Largest mosque in India